F.I.L.M. of the Week (March 19, 2015)

19 03 2015

The Jarecki family features two prominent documentarians; recently, Eugene has been the more active of the brothers.  His acclaimed 2012 film “The House I Live In” sparked some debate around the topic of mass incarceration in America.  But, all of a sudden, Andrew Jarecki has arrived with his HBO series “The Jinx” that left the entertainment page and flew onto the front page.

Andrew flew under the radar for the past decade or so, although he is the only brother with an Oscar nomination.  He achieved that feat for his 2003 feature “Capturing the Friedmans,” another documentary centered around a monstrous criminal spawned by a well-off but unusual family.  Unlike “The Jinx,” where Jarecki consciously sought to make a judgment about his subject, he stays hands-off here.

“Capturing the Friedmans” is my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” because of this observational, judgment-free style.  Though Arnold Friedman and his son, Jesse, were charged and convicted of possessing child pornography and sexually abusing minors, Jarecki never treats them as subhuman.  In fact, he even extends them the benefit of the doubt as to whether they committed these acts in the first place.  No physical evidence was ever uncovered, so the case came down to the word of the children against the word of the Friedmans.

Jarecki manages to get some of the most personal, frank testimony from the participants in the story, especially those in the Friedman family themselves.  When the state brings charges against Arnold and Jesse, the matriarch and her other two sons hardly react in a conventionally supportive matter.  Home video recorded from the time of the legal action shows their bitter disintegration as a family unit, and the interviews shed light on why it all unraveled so easily.

As it turns out, the abuse goes farther back than just the assaults Arnold and Jesse reportedly committed in their basement to children signed up for a computer class.  (Horrifying and sickening, if it’s true.)  But by highlighting the legacy of sexual dysfunction that led up to deeds which resulted in two prison sentences, Jarecki never seems like he is attempting to excuse or apologize for the Friedman men.  In “Capturing the Friedmans,” he achieves just what his title indicates: nailing them down in their very essence to allow a greater understanding of how they could have done what they did.

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